Thursday, 11 March 2010

PostHeaderIcon Good Japan: Taiko


It's been awhile since I mentioned something I like about Japan because I only gain energy from things I dislike.  However, I thought I'd break the trend by talking about my new hobby.  Taiko (太鼓) translates as thick drum and the drum itself has been around for hundreds of years or so.  Although playing as a group only began in 1951 and is one of the many newly established "traditions" that bloomed in the miserable period after the war. I was sad to learn that it wasn't part of ancient culture since it has all the appearances of being so.  Still, taiko is great fun and it is now a main performance at festivals for any town worth its salt.  I don't actually know the names of the different kind of drums but they basically go from small to massive.  The main setup involves a few smaller, higher pitched drums that usually begin and keep the rhythm of the song.  At the front are the larger drums that play the main part of the song whilst at the back they are mounted and hit with larger sticks to add more of a bass... I guess.  I don't really know what I'm talking about.  Also, there is a massive drum sometimes used.  I think it's the biggest in the world.  The drums themselves are carved out from a single tree trunk that can be hundreds of years old.  Obviously, the drums are hit with various sized sticks called bashi.  I like to play the big drum at the front although it has recently been destroying everyone's hands and you need to bend your knees in a position that’s akin to permanently being about to lift something heavy.  When I play the small drum I feel like I'm a little drummer boy stuck in a Christmas song.  Whereas the big one reminds me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom just before they throw the people into the flames.  Alright... so now you know what it is.

 This is the ending:  dadadada dadadadada clack clack da da da dada da YA

A few of my friends and I decided to join a group after we saw a performance at a JET conference at the start of the year.  My town has a group but they practice on the same evening as my English class and they're not as friendly or welcoming.  The people down in Muroto are really nice and have put up with about half a dozen foreigners invading their group and starting from scratch.  We've only been going to practice since the middle of January but we performed the two songs we learned last weekend at a shrine.  The two we learned are called 大地 and .  There is an element of debate between the gaijin as to what the songs are actually called or mean.  I'm pretty sure they are daichi which means 'earth/ground' and zoku which means 'tribe'.  When I first started going I missed a few practices because of work parties and the like.  This meant I was completely lost when we started playing the first song.  I remember thinking it was difficult and I was useless but now it's so easy I could play it with my eyes closed... which you kind of do anyway because you need to stare defiantly at the horizon when you play.  This results in me looking a bit lost, confused and sometimes cross-eyed.  Indeed, keeping rhythm and playing the song is only half of the performance.  Taiko is a very visual display and you need move about, shout and smash the drums with high, straight arms.  I'm not very good at doing this part either.  The second song is great because the main part starts with a massive smash of the drum and then you get to lift your right leg up and look like you know what you're doing.  In saying that... it is followed by an uncomfortable period of swinging your sticks about like you're meant to be the ocean.  It's very awkward for lanky, hairy white men.

 Muroto taiko:  Nice chaps

The festival itself was the ひな祭り (doll's festival) which is possibly the most boring excuse for a celebration in the world.  Basically, you have these cheap looking but ridiculously expensive dolls dressed up in traditional clothes and they are then displayed in people's homes.  So you walk about a street and glance in to see the same rubbish dolls over and over.  There's a little bit of negativity to balance the entry.  It was a shame that the weather was a bit rubbish on Sunday as we had to stand about all day in the pouring rain getting nervous.  The best thing about the performance was we actually got to perform on stage at an actual shrine.  Even better... it was a shrine to the God of War and hanging on the wall were pictures of fighter planes and the emperor.  I very much enjoyed that.  Also, we got to play in our bare feet and they gave us a proper outfit to wear.  There were four foreigners playing on Sunday (Naomi, myself, Ben and David as seen in the picture) and we played the last song in the four main positions at the front.  I found myself right at the centre which made me somewhat nervous but we actually nailed the song.  The first song was a bit of a nightmare for myself as some Japanese lad stole my drum so I had to start at a different section.  Also, there were no sticks at my drum when we were just about to begin.  I didn't make a total arse of it though and that's all that matters.  The biggest concern is always the fear of a stick flying out your hand and killing a 90 year old woman.  Well, that's all I can really say about taiko.  It feels really good to actually participate in something Japanesey.  It recently dawned on me that performing taiko at a shrine is up there with the most Japanese experience you can have.  It's like I'm actually doing what I'm meant to do here for once.  Hurrah.

Here is a longer and much more proficient performanc of zoku by the group who wrote it.  The main song starts about 2 minutes in. We don't have any of the lads at the back with the rolling pins.
 Secret text

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.

Shashins